By Dave Wagner
CNJ sports writer
Don’t look now, but the Eastern New Mexico University Zias are suddenly in the middle of the Lone Star Conference basketball race.
Junior forward Tori Tucker posted a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, leading five Zias in double figures in a 74-64 victory over Angelo State on Saturday at Greyhound Arena.
Senior guard Alexa Candelaria, who has been playing only since the start of conference play, added 14 points off the bench on 5-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-8 from 3-point range. Senior guard Lakeeyscia Griffin and junior post Jasmine Johnson scored 12 points each, while sophomore forward Nelsha Peterson chipped in 10 points off the bench.
The Zias (5-8, 3-1 LSC) improved to 4-1 at home and now trail only West Texas A&M, at 4-0, and Tarleton State, at 4-1 in the LSC race. Everyone else has at least three league losses.
“We’ve been building since September, trying to find that consistent play,” first-year ENMU coach Joshua Prock said. “It’s a tough conference. If you’re going to go somewhere in the postseason, you’re going to have to take care of your homecourt.”
ENMU led most of the way, building a 14-point lead with about eight minutes left in the first half as the Rambelles (9-7, 3-3) managed only six first-half field goals. ASU, though, stayed in it by sinking 15-of-19 free throws and trailed just 33-27 at the break.
Meantime, Candelaria went 3-for-5 from long distance in the opening half.
“That’s my role,” she said. “I just want to bring energy and be ready whenever coach calls on me.”
Candelaria, who has gone through five surgeries on her knees, missed the first semester due to an eligibility issue. She said her grades were fine; she was just one short of the requirement to be on course to graduate, but she admits she was ready to get going.
She’s still trying to get herself into playing shape.
“My health has been an issue,” said Candelaria, who is from El Paso. “I’m not 100 percent, but I’m ready to go.”
The Rambelles, who got 11 points from reserve Tatiana Haynes and 10 from senior forward Rochelle Norris, led only briefly at 2-0 before making a push midway through the second half. The teams actually exchanged leads on four consecutive possessions, but Melrose freshman Cara Barnard banked in a tough shot off a drive to put the Zias in front for good 60-59.
Tucker hit a big 3-pointer with 1:09 left for a 68-60 lead, and the Zias made six free throws in the final minute.
“I think we’re growing every game,” Candelaria said. “I see a lot of improvement every day.”
The Zias have a three-game week coming up, hosting Texas A&M-Commerce on Wednesday and Texas Woman’s on Thursday before traveling to Tarleton State on Saturday.